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Equine Gait: Walk, Trot, Canter and Gallop

17th April 2010, 16:45

Gaits are the different ways in which horses move. This article will explain the basics of the main equine gaits.


Gaits can be either natural or specially trained. Natural gaits are used by nearly every horse without special training, even in the wild. In order of speed, the natural gaits are walk, trot, canter and gallop. The ambling gates are a collection of smooth footfall gaits that may only appear in some breeds and usually require special training before the rider can command them.



walk gait

- 4 beat gait (regular 1-2-3-4)

- Order : Left hind leg, left front leg, right hind leg, right front leg

- Average speed : 4mph

The horse will have one foot raised and 3 on the floor, apart from the moment weight is transferred from one to the other. The horse's head moves up and down slightly to help maintain balance.

For a smoother walk the advancing rear foot should overstep the previously advancing front foot.



trot gait

- 2 beat gait

- Order : Diagonal Pairs

- Average speed : Varies hugely. but around 8mph. A slow trot is known as a jog.

The trot is known as the working gait as a healthy horse can jog for hours but can only canter and gallop for short periods (despite what the movies say)!

During trot a horse's body drops a bit between the beats and rises up again when the next pair of feet hits the ground. To avoid being uncomfortable or hurting the horse riders generally post to the trot, rising and falling in sync with the horse in order to avoid jolting. Experienced riders can, with training, learn to ride with the trot without bouncing.

Two special variations of the trot are the Piaff and the Passage. The Piaffe is essentially trotting in place with only a small forward motion the Passage is essentially a drawn-out slow-motion trot. Both require horses in excellent condition and advanced training.



canter gait

- 3 beat gait

- Order : e.g. Right hind leg, left hind leg and right front leg, left front leg

- Average speed : 10-17mph

During the canter one of the horses hind legs propels the horse forward. On the next beat the front leg on the same side and the opposite rear leg support the horse and finally the opposite front leg. There is then a 1 beat rest before the process begins again.

The most extended foreleg is known as the lead, usually the lead leg should be on the inside of a circle. A horse where the left legs are the most extended is on the 'left lead'.

The correct lead allows the horse better balance although the rider can signal the lead to, for example, set up on the correct foot for a fence or during some dressage competitions. Changing from one lead to the other whilst moving in a straight line is known as a flying change.

The word is thought to be short for 'Canterbury Gallop'.



gallop gait

- 4 beat gait

- Order : e.g. Right hind leg, left hind leg, right front leg, left front leg

- Average Speed : 25-30mph

During the gallop one of the horse's hind legs propels the horse forward. Then the opposite hind leg hits the floor a split second before the front leg on original side. Then the final leg hits before a brief suspension period in which none of the legs are touching the floor.

The gallop is the fastest gait, but can only be maintained for short periods. When jumping over a fence the horse essentially takes the first two steps of a gallop before the jump and the final two on landing.